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Explainer: Why has Ukraine sought Leopard 2 battle tanks?

Leopard 2 tank

As part of a deal made between Slovakia and Ukraine, Germany delivered the first Leopard tanks to the country as seen in this image taken in Bratislava, Slovakia. The donation was made by Slovakia to help Ukraine fight off Russian forces.

During the Silver Arrow 2022 military drill, Latvian army tanks — including a NATO-implemented Leopard 2 — fire in the last phase. Taken by Reuters photographer Inters Kalnins, this image was taken on September 29, 2022 at Adazi military training grounds in Latvia.

In a Leper 2 tank, soldiers of Switzerland's army drive on the A1 motorway close to Othmaringen. As part of a military exercise called "Pilum," they're seen on November 28, 2022. By Arnd Wiegmann from Reuters.

Germany agreed to provide Ukraine with a Leopard 2 tank built by them after months of Kyiv requests for additional armored vehicles to break through Russian defensive lines.

Kyiv appreciates the Leopard 2's advantages over the alternatives, such as the Challenger 2 or the M1 Abrams. They specifically want this tank because it's superior to all others.

The Leopard 2 tank is one of the best tanks used by the West. It has several advantages, including being a popular tank.

Currently, Ukraine operates a Leopard 2 tank with the support of several other countries using the same model of tank. By using one model of tank, training personnel and maintaining the tank are easier. This is because over 20 countries use the Leopard 2.

Over 3,500 Leopard 2 tanks have been manufactured since production began in 1978.

German companies RHMG.DE and Rheinmetall produced the tank, with a weight of over 60 tons and a 120 mm smooth-bore gun. Its range is up to five kilometers — 3.1 miles — away from the target.

Other nations that operate Leopards include Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Turkey.

How many Leopards II tanks are available?
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many countries drastically cut the size of their militaries. As a result, tanks and other heavy weapons are hard to find in the West.

Germany has about 350 Leopard 2 tanks today, according to a German military professional named Carl Schulze. This number is compared to 4,000 battle main tanks at the height of the Cold War.

It's difficult to quickly purchase a large amount of Leopard 2 tanks.

Germany's law prohibits them from maintaining stockpiles of defensive products. Usually countries ordering new tanks need to plan on two to three years for delivery.

Experts estimate it could take at least two years before the first new tanks leave the factory for production to increase.

What other tanks are available?
The United States has thousands of M1 Abrams tanks built by General Dynamics. They say that it's planning to send dozens of these tanks to Ukraine; this is a reversal of their previous policy.

Because the M1 Abrams run on gas-turbine engines with high fuel consumption, Ukraine wouldn’t be able to keep them supplied. Despite this, they can run on diesel as well.

Leopold 2 tanks run on a kerosene based engine that is easier to obtain than diesel. Both fuels are cheaper than diesel.

In January 2019, the British government announced it would send a 14-tank squadron to the war zone. However, this is unlike the Leopard 2 tank; it isn’t as popular as the Challenger 2 and can’t produce as many.

Unlike the M1 Abrams and the Leopard 2, which both feature 120 millimeter smooth bore guns, the Challenger 2 features a rifled gun with specific ammunition requirements that makes it non-interoperable with other vehicles.

After considering the Leclerc 120 millimeter smooth bore tank, France decided it would send it to Ukraine. However, it said this decision was hindered by the fact that France only has a small number of these tanks at its disposal. Furthermore, maintaining a tank of this size and weight proved difficult for them.


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